To Make or Fabricate: The New K-12 Classroom

Presented by: Wendy Hynes, Cassondra Terlep, and Chen Zheng

In 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) published the Framework for K-12 Science Education with new science standards rich in content and project-based learning (NGSS, 2013). However, based on this new framework, traditional classroom design no longer meets the needs of STEM education. The purpose of this project is to determine fundamental classroom design features necessary to support new K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) project-based learning activities.

The term “makerspace” originated with Dale Dougherty, CEO of Maker Media, Inc. and creator of Maker Faire, and started as a community workspace for people interested in science, technology and digital art to collaborate, tinker and invent (Cavalcanti, 2013). Around the same time, Fab Lab (short for fabrication laboratory) was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a course that mainly focused on researching technologies for personal fabrication (Cavalcanti, 2013). Schools have been very interested in the buzz around these types of spaces for their inherent educational, collaborative, innovative, project-based environment. For these reasons fabrication labs are now a norm in new middle/high school facilities.

Although both Fab Lab and Maker Faire have design recommendations for their spaces both organizations are community based. They appeal to a certain population that attend and use the spaces voluntarily and unstructured. They are not designed as classrooms nor do their design guidelines necessarily take younger users into account. Because there is little research about how to design a fabrication lab for a K-12 curriculum further investigation is needed.

In order to begin to understand how students learn and interact in such spaces, a partnership was formed between the interior design research team (consisting of faculty and graduate students) and the School of Engineering Education at a major research university. The engineering educators are in the early process of constructing a new fabrication lab classroom to be used for K-12 STEM curriculum simulations and research. The interior design team will design the fabrication lab and make recommendations to the School of Engineering Education for implementation. 

In order to produce practical and realistic results, the design team will utilize Fab Lab’s “ideal lab layout” guidelines along with the program requirements (allotted square footage, number of students, equipment and other technology requirements) for an actual fabrication lab classroom in a public middle school in Massachusetts. The School of Engineering Education not only serves as the client, but as a consultant on how students learn and engage in the engineering design process.  

This study aims to develop essential design guidelines and considerations supportive of new K-12 STEM learning environments, particularly fabrication labs. We have learned that there is little known about these spaces which encourages our team to find a solution for schools who want to increase STEM curriculum and project-based learning in fabrication lab classrooms today. 

The poster will incorporate graphics depicting the design solution for a K-12 school-based fabrication lab including programming notes, schematic design, design development and FF&E specification. Research notes from interviews with the Engineering Educators and a literature review will also be included.


  • Cavalcanti, G. (2013). Is it a Hackerspace, Makerspace, TechShop, or FabLab? MAKE:, 9(9).
  • Gislason, N. (2010). Architectural design and the learning environment: A framework for school design research. Learning Environments Research, 13(2), 127-145.
  • Leiringer, R., & Cardellino, P. (2011). Schools for the twenty-first century: school design and educational transformation. British Educational Research Journal, 37(6), 915-934.
  • NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States.Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
  • Tseng, K. H., Chang, C. C., Lou, S. J., & Chen, W. P. (2013). Attitudes towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a project-based learning (PjBL) environment. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 23(1), 87-102.
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